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Let him be, let him choose

Sachin Tendulkar deserves to be treated far better than he is being treated right now, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Jul 22, 2006 15:42 IST

Like many others, I fell in love with cricket because of Sachin Tendulkar. And like in life, it's a love story that's had its ups and downs but is definitely still going on. Before Tendulkar, cricket in my (then) short life had moved through various phases like quicksilver; there was first, the association phase, i.e., gully cricket, an aggressive, passionate brawl where one would pick up the bat and walk off if given out.

There was then the obsessive phase, autograph hunting and scorecard maintaining in the high following India's World Cup win in 1983. And there was the infatuation phase, which basically involved huge arguments over precious posters of Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar.

Tendulkar though, was different. Impossibly young when he was catapulted into the National side, he made cricket that much more real for a whole generation of us who grew up looking up to the boy next door turned boy genius. Because he made us believe that being young did not mean you had to wait --- life was yours for the taking if you had what it takes. We wanted to believe we did, like he did.

For us gully cricketers, boys and girls alike, he was already a star, even before he made his Test debut. We had heard of the boy from Bombay, of his uncommon prowess with the bat and the self-effacing manner, long before we saw him walk out against Pakistan in 1989. The mop of curly hair and the cherubic, shy smile, even the voice-that-never-broke only added to the unconscious charm he exuded.

He wasn't just a hero, he was much more than that. In a world of greys and blacks and whites, of people who seemed older, more forbidding, Tendulkar was a breath of fresh air --- he filled in all the colours. We lived our lives vicariously, through his life. When he did well, we did well, when he didn't, we cried.

We grew up alongside Tendulkar, watched as the boy became a man, the man became a legend and the legend became a God. One who, with time, seemed to get further away from where we sat and watched --- a distant deity. Yet, having lived his life with him for so long, we couldn't help watching. Part-habit, part fascinatin and part need for reassurance.

We watched as every now and then, in between those thrilling, joyous sessions of enchantment, he would show a hint of vulnerability, a hint of fallibility. And just as we would begin to fret, eventually, from somewhere deep inside, with no help from the outside world, he would summon up something that would restore that perfect image.

And we would all heave a sigh of relief and get on with whatever it is we were doing. Reassured.

Till a few years ago. When his tussles with his body and inevitably, his mind, became less uncommon and more convoluted. When the magic flickered, then faltered every now and then and got us all extremely worried. Sometimes, there was anger, after all, Tendulkar was a talisman and talismans aren't supposed to break down. And probably, because of those unspoken words, "if Tendulkar can fail, what hope for the rest of us?"

We at least, were fortunate, that time of uncertainty passed. Within us, that is. Because, like in any mythical story about the Gods, a new avatar picked up the proverbial bow and arrow when one wavered. We got our Trinity and then, now, a Pantheon.

But spare a thought for Tendulkar.

What does he have to fall back upon, except those same inner reserves of faith that have served him and us so well over the years?

For an incredible 16 years now, he's almost singlehandedly built a team and forged its spirit, given us joy, confidence, a self-belief and hope, often when all else was going wrong around us. And now, when he needs time to come to terms with whatever he's going through, he's mocked at, snubbed and derided. And ridiculed by his home crowd.

No man may be bigger than the game but some men, those who have made the game as big as it's become through an intangible quality and the joie de vivre they bring to it, have a right to far more leeway than anyone else.

It would be presumptuous to even try and figure out what Tendulkar's problem is. He would know best. And is probably figuring out what to do.

Hindu legend has it that the rarest of the rare in the world were given a priceless gift by the devas. They were allowed to choose the time and manner of their own death. In the cricketing world, if anyone deserves this, it is Tendulkar. Let him be. Whether he scores or not on Wednesday and if this current injury- is not too serious-- the magic could well go on for a few years more. But if it's time to walk into the shadows, he'll be the first to know. And do so.

First Published: Mar 22, 2006 00:35 IST